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The public career of John Quincy Adams poses this paradox: he was the greatest ever Secretary of State but only a mediocre President.

Both were diplomatic triumphs, gaining Florida for the United States and resolving border disputes with both nations. He was the architect of the Monroe doctrine, the cornerstone of American foreign policy in this hemisphere until the present day. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

He did have a vision of strong federal leadership in internal improvements and scientific innovation—what we today would term public goods. But with few notable exceptions, like the building of the Cumberland Road, he was unsuccessful in persuading Congress to adopt his program. Despite being elected by the House after failing to win a majority of either the electoral or popular vote, he did nothing to expand his coalition and was handily defeated by Andrew Jackson in the next presidential election.

As a result, Adams was able to get support for the political compromises that helped him ratify key treaties. Adams thus took office under much less favorable circumstances than did Monroe, even setting aside the loss of legitimacy that came from winning in the House rather than in electoral college. In dealing with foreign nations, he recognized that he was in the realm of pragmatism rather than pure principle. He had been a diplomat for almost his whole life, beginning as secretary to the Russia legation at age These formative experiences gave him an appreciation for the inevitable give-and-take of international bargaining.

But domestically, Adams was a moralist: in his view, the United States polity should reflect certain principles of liberty and common good that were not subject to compromise. The principles were on the whole admirable, but on the issue of slavery they were not shared throughout the union, and there was disagreement on how to apply them even on less momentous issues.

John Quincy Adams: American Visionary by Fred Kaplan

Adams had a tendency to demonize his opponents rather than look for common ground. He was the kind of conviction politician who can succeed as a leader of the nation only when the time is ripe for fundamental change. The same unbending principles that crippled his Presidency led to the most successful post-Presidency in the history of the United States. At one a time a professor of rhetoric at Harvard, Adams rivals Abraham Lincoln as a master of prose and wrote far more on more diverse subjects from theology to science. John O.

The Successes and Failure of John Quincy Adams

McGinnis is the George C. About the Author. I really hope one day leaders of my country will leave legacies such as those of Lincoln, Quincy, JFK and many other great American leaders. I am sure that Mr. A member of one of the great American political dynasties, rivaling the Roosevelts, Tafts, Kennedys, and Bushes, John Quincy Adams nonetheless inhabits the netherworld of American memory, remaining a figure of mystery, overshadowed by the Adams who preceded him John, his father , by the president who succeeded him Andrew Jackson — and by the mother who shaped him Abigail Adams.

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President, diplomat, member of the Senate and House, he may be the quintessential American of the first century of our national life — as worldly as Benjamin Franklin, as intellectual as James Madison, as cultivated as Thomas Jefferson, and yet less known than any of those. He may have achieved that goal, but at a price: a biography whose hero is slightly too heroic.


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His first break was as a young lawyer appointed resident American minister at The Hague, then dispatched to Berlin as minister plenipotentiary. It was evident from the start that his was not to be an ordinary career — or life. Poet, translator, scholar, the list of his casual readings — Demosthenes, Aristotle, Cicero — is comparable only to Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt, not even to Woodrow Wilson, the scholar president. He thought deeply about politics and applied an unusually philosophical template to his congressional votes — and as the earlyth-century crisis over impressment of sailors by the British deepened, he became the only Federalist to support the first nonimportation bill and the only Federalist to back the embargo on trade with Great Britain and France.

He was abandoned by all but a handful in the salon and solon society of Massachusetts. But this was a life of so many unanticipated twists and fateful turns that Adams was destined not to disappear from view or to retreat to happy quotidian anonymity.

John Quincy Adams American Visionary

Kaplan portrays the Monroe Doctrine as an American reaction to dynastic politics in Europe and the imperial impulse they produced. The concern, of course, was primarily the Spanish legacy in Latin America. Monroe was reluctant to issue the doctrine; Adams was insistent. The secretary prevailed. The Jacksonites howled.